An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Mar 5, 2014
11:26 AMThe Connecticut Table
A Getaway for Chocoholics at JHouse Boutique Hotel in Greenwich
Chef Francois Kwaku-Dongo is not sure what makes someone a chocoholic but he knows one when he sees one.
“For me personally, I can’t go a day without chocolate, so you can classify me as a chocoholic,” he says.
Kwaku-Dongo, who is internationally known for his chocolate making expertise, shares his addiction with others on a daily basis at The Chocolate Lab, a coffee and dessert café at the JHouse Greenwich, a boutique hotel where Kwaku-Dongo oversees the eleven14 Kitchen.
On Saturday, March 8, and again on Saturday, April 12, the JHouse will host a chocolate-centric vacation at the venue called the Chocoholics’ Getaway. The coco-flavored package includes a class in the art of chocolate truffle making with Kwaku-Dongo in The Chocolate Lab. During the class, guests will sample various chocolate creations, enjoy full Champagne service, and learn about the process and history of how chocolate is made.
The chocolate immersion for guests will also extend beyond the class. At the front desk they’ll be welcomed with a cup of The Chocolate Lab’s hot chocolate with housemade mini-marshmallows. Another chocolate fix will be waiting in their rooms. Getaway-ists will also be treated to a selection of chocolate desserts at the eleven14 Kitchen, and to a chocolaty breakfast-in-bed before their departure. The overnight package costs $349 and includes a double occupancy room.
The chocolate making process is one that Kwaku-Dongo (below), knows well. He grew up on his grandparents’ cacao farm in the Cote d’Ivoire (the Ivory Coast in West Africa), but as a kid he knew nothing about the delicious treat those cacao beans were being harvested to create.
“I never had chocolate,” he recalls. “I knew the cacao pod and how to harvest the cacao pod but I knew basically nothing about chocolate."
It wasn’t until he was in his 20s and moved to the United States in the 1980s that he first tasted chocolate and fell in love with it. He began his career as a chef in California working for Wolfgang Puck at the restaurant Spago.
Working at Spago, Kwaku-Dongo helped prepare chocolate deserts for celebrities at events like the Academy Awards.
“It was constant chocolate,” he says, “and I got passionate about chocolate.”
Chocolate would eventually become one of the focuses of his professional life. He founded the globally acclaimed Omanhene in Ghana, which is billed as the world’s first country of origin chocolate manufacturer (a place where the cocoa beans are grown and then used to make chocolate without first being shipped elsewhere).
The Chocolate Lab gets its supplies from Omanhene, which means the chocolate in Greenwich is fresh and made with the best available ingredients.
At the Chocolate Lab (above), Kwaku-Dongo shares tasty creations like Omanhene Truffles, and teaches customers about how chocolate is made. In addition to the Chocoholic Getaway events, Kwaku-Dongo also teaches a monthly cookie- and brownie-making class at The Chocolate Lab for kids. The hour-long classes, which are open to children 6 and older, take place on the first Saturday of the month at 2 p.m. As for Kwaku-Dongo’s personal choco-holism it generally takes the same daily form. He gets started in the morning with a cup of hot chocolate. In the afternoon he has a chocolate cookie, and caps it off with a warm piece of chocolate cake in the evening.
The Chocolate Lab is located at the JHouse Greenwich, 1114 E. Putnum Ave., Riverside. For hotel reservations, call The JHouse at 203-698-6980. For more information about The Chocolate Lab, visit www.choc-lab.com.